Monday, September 1, 2014

Loving Long Distance

For the past two years, my sister and I have had the misfortune of living more than 400 miles apart (404.2 to be exact).  It is the furthest we've lived apart since I was 15 and we finally had become best friends, rather than practically being sworn enemies who poured hot coffee on each other, threw D-sized batteries at the other's face, or tried murdering each other in various other diabolical ways . . . you know, normal sister stuff. Right?

I'm so glad things changed. I'm not sure that either one of us would have made it to adulthood otherwise.

Because of the sadness at our distance, a few weeks ago (Or a month? Time is all blurring together) I sent my sister a couple of completely adorable videos of Annabelle and Eleanor saying "hi" to their Auntie Heather, and telling her how much they love her.

After I sent the videos to Heather, I messaged her and told her that they'd love to have a video back from her, and maybe even Ayla if she'd be willing (She wasn't. She's thirteen. What did I expect? Can't say I blame her.) And wouldn't it be cool if Heather could read a book and send the video back to the girls? I'd heard of people doing things like that, and I've always wanted to do it, but never had. But, no time like the present, right?

Of course Heather replied with her own completely adorable video asking the girls to choose which book they wanted her to read to them.

They then video'd themselves telling her what book they chose.

She replied with a video reading the book they chose.

They about died with happiness. Then they chose another book.

She replied with another video reading the next book they chose.

Again, they about died with happiness.

What I love about video messages, as opposed to simply FaceTime or Skype, is that we have the video messages to go back to and re-watch when missing each other gets particularly hard. The girls love can going back to them when wanted or needed. The added bonus is, she's reading to them. So, not only are they 'watching a video' but they're also 'reading a book.' I like to sneak in learning when they don't think they're leaning.

Of course, life interrupted our video messages flow - vacations, work, school beginning, you know - but the video's are still there.

Distance doesn't mean that we can't spend quality time with the people we love. The long distance between us just means we need to put a little more thought and effort into staying connected, and of course relying on technology to bring us in the same room again.

Here is a little video of the first couple video's we sent back and forth.

Love you, sis. More than tongue can tell. 

How else do you keep up with loving family long distance? Maybe your ideas can spark something else fun we can do. 


P.S. Heather - we need to do more these video's. Girls keep begging for it. Some more may be on your way today.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

School Year Beginnings

We've been in school for two weeks now, or nine days. 171 more school days until summer. . . but whose counting?

Eleanor is in first grade. First grade! Did you hear me? First. Grade. My mind is continually blown by this fact. Even more so because I am her first grade teacher. Me. Her teacher. It is something I'd dreamed of long ago, but had lost hope of happening. Now that it is finally a reality. . . ? It is great. I am loving it. She is loving it.

Okay, well. . .

Mostly loving it. Besides wanting to be my constant helper, and sit on my lap when we're doing our circle time, I have to deal with the fact that she does react to me differently than she does to other adults. She has less patience with me when I try to explain something. If she has something stuck in her head, oftentimes no matter what I say will change her mind. If she is confused about something, and already frustrated when I find her, sometimes there is nothing I can do to explain how she can solve the problem. She only gets more frustrated, and says "I just can't do it! It's too hard!"

She promised me that she'd be different at school than she is at home with me. I told her I'd hold her to that promise. Mostly she is different for me at school than at home, but the attitude she tries to give me at home slipped out for the first time yesterday. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, but I did have to separate her from the class, and there were lots of tears.

Then she told me she wanted to be back in Kindergarten again, because first grade was so much harder. I didn't allow myself to take it personally (too much). I know there will be more struggles throughout the year. . .like the fact that she honestly knows where everything is, and knows I work, and what I need, so - even though I have picked other students out to do jobs and be helpers in the classroom that rotate, Eleanor ends up also helping out with other things I hadn't put on my list of classroom jobs, like "find where Mrs. Craig left her keys, or phone, or TV remote, or water bottle. . .remind her not to cross her legs, or . . . "

But overall, we have both been loving our time together. And most importantly, I have been loving being with all the littles, all their excitement over learning, and all their excitement for just being in school. I love their positive energy I am surrounded with during the day. It is exactly what I needed in my life, especially when so much of the rest of my life has been filled with such negative energy. The negative attitude of the middle schoolers I taught for the last few years had a way of leaving 'my bucket' completely empty by the end of the day (of course not all the of the middle schoolers had negative attitudes, especially not Angie, of course - Angie never had a bad attitude. Hi, Angie - hope you're having a good weekend so far.).  I'd been teaching middle school for 7 years (3 years full-time, 4 years substitute teaching). It is not that I don't love the middle school kids, or love that age, or love the content of what I was teaching them - but I searched deep inside of me, and realized that I needed to make the change for me, so I could find the balance in my life that I'd been needing.

I've found that balance that I needed.

Now, I leave school with "my bucket" filled to the brim, rather than already empty. So by the time I get home, and am faced with one challenge or another, I am not already drained and have a hard time dealing with the issues I need to immediately. I come home with my bucket so full, I have reserves to draw from.

What I'm really saying is, "I've found my niche in teaching," and that's a good thing. A very good thing.

Teaching in action

End of first day happy/tired selfie 

Two days after Eleanor and I began school together, Annabelle began preschool for the very first time. We enrolled her in the LAUP preschool program (LA Universal Preschool), which happens to be free (with parents needing to volunteer a certain amount of hours each school year). A friend recommended the program to us, and so far we are very pleased. You know, despite exposing her to 'foot and mouth disease,' which really isn't their fault at all. It could happen anywhere. They have a morning and afternoon session. So, while Brandon teaches PE in the afternoon for a couple of hours at my school - Annabelle gets to be in preschool.

I asked her what her favorite part of preschool was.

"Lunch time, and when they give us popsicles."

What's funny is that we didn't realize they fed the kids lunch since the afternoon session starts at 12:45. Brandon had been feeding her lunch then sending her to preschool. I'm sure she thought she'd just won the lottery when they fed her a second lunch. We hadn't done enough research to know that  their program is centered around providing quality education, physical activity, and nutrition 'that ensures children develop healthy habits into adulthood.'

They apparently fed her fish-sticks yesterday, and she gleefully told me, "I ate fish-sticks, and I LIKED it!" With that 'I've been naughty, but I don't care' gleam in her eye.

The more I read about their program, and the more good things I hear from other people, the more glad I am that we found this program.

Outside the preschool building 

LAUP outside playground 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Summer of Intentional Living

At the beginning of summer I made a promise to myself. I looked in the mirror (yes, literally. I'm dramatic like that.) and said, "Heidi, this summer you are going to live everyday to the fullest. You are not going to waste a minute. You are going to take charge of your life and not regret a day."

I needed a change. I needed to feel more in control of my life. You see, some days I feel like I'm just on this roller coaster, that I'm just along for the ride. I feel like I can't control one single thing, and that, my friends, is scary.

Over the last two years of being a working-mom, rather than a stay-at-home mom, my health had taken a back-burner. I stopped eating as healthy. I stopped exercising regularly. I stopped taking as much care of me as I put my focus on being the best teacher I could be, and still be the best mom, wife, and granddaughter I could be too.

I lost myself in the caring for everyone else around me. I stopped caring about me.

But what I didn't realize was that I couldn't really, and truly care about everyone else around me unless I had taken care of me first.

It took me a long time to come to that realization. That 'me first' attitude sounds so selfish, and narcissistic (all things I loath). But it is not selfish and narcissistic.

A good friend once told me 'If the airplane is crashing, you have to put on the oxygen mask first before you can help anyone else.'

But it took a long time for those words to really sink in, to fully realize that it's not selfish to put on that oxygen mask. It's necessary. You can't help anyone else if you pass out from lack of oxygen on a crashing plane. You can't help anyone else in life if you don't put on your metaphorical oxygen mask.

This summer, I put on my oxygen mask.

I woke up early every morning, made a healthy breakfast for myself, went to the gym for an hour (or more!), went to my classroom to prepare for teaching in a new classroom, at a new grade level. I spent time playing with my children in the afternoon, and going on fun day trip outings. I watched less TV, and read more books. Most importantly, I wrote just for the sheer pleasure of writing for me.

I embraced all the things that I knew made me happy.

The end result? I am stronger. I am healthier.  I feel like a better mother, a better wife, a better teacher, a better granddaughter. I have more energy. I have more patience.  I am much more present.

As the summer draws rapidly to a close (I've already reported back to work, and students come back next Tuesday), I am not panicked about losing myself again when the school year starts. I will keep getting up early in the morning and going to the gym before work and pushing my body. I will keep going to school and giving it my all to my students. I will keep coming home and giving it my all to my daughters and family. I will keep writing in the evening and giving it my all to my stories.

I will do it all over again, and I will glow because I have taken control of my life, and I am not scared anymore.

I will keep living intentionally, because I learned this summer that my 'oxygen mask' is not selfish, its necessary.

P.S. Hi, Angie! Looking forward to seeing you again Tuesday. :) 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Best of Birthday" Badge

A few weeks ago (yes, I know I am late on this. I claim the "I'm a busy teacher getting ready for back to school" excuse)  I opened up my email and out of the blue received this message from Mariah at Birthday Express:

Hi Heidi,

My name is Mariah Olson, and I am a representative of Birthday Express. My job is to search the internet for outstanding children's birthday blogs that deserve recognition. When I came across your party for your daughter Eleanor's birthday, I knew immediately that there was a great deal of time and effort spent on this celebration! The special details that you included like a beautifully decorated tea sandwiches and the scones and the tea cups/tea pot are beautiful! I really like the cake with the teapot cake topper. Your husband trading idea was genius. Having 4 girls myself, I'm sure the girls enjoyed getting their nails done as well. That was such a cool touch!!

On behalf of Birthday Express, we would like to offer you our "Best Birthday" badge for throwing such a sensational party. Congratulations--you and your little one deserve it! If you are interested, let me know and I'll send it your way. Again, congratulations, and thank you for your time! 

Best Regards,

Mariah Olson

Seeing as how I don't keep up this blog very regularly and only post it for friends to see, I was shocked that anyone 'out there' would ever see any of my posts. I was even more shocked they would think anything I posted was worthy for a 'best of' anything. I am humbled, honored, and motivated to keep throwing the best birthday parties I can for my girls (sorry Brandon, its not going to end anytime soon). Now, what to do for Annabelle's 5th birthday party?? Hmmm. . .

Thank you, Mariah for the recognition of my hard work (and fun). Also, I have to give another huge shout out to my beautiful sister, Heather, and niece, Ayla, for helping put all the decorations together, and keep me sane on the day of the party. Couldn't do it without you guys!

photo BestBirthday_zpsa6c2c38a.png


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Harnessing Creativity In My Children

Someone once asked me, "How do you create creativity in children?"

It seemed an odd question. Children are creative naturally, aren't they? How could one 'create creativity' in children?

But the more I thought about it, and the more I watched my middle school students struggle with creativity not only in their writing, but in their art and over-all creative thinking skills, the more I realized that creativity isn't necessarily something anyone can 'create' in another person, but it most certainly can be fostered.

But more than it 'can be' fostered, it absolutely needs to be harnessed. Our kids are these little sponges that learn so much from us, but their brains are myelinating at the same time. (Check it out: the brain actually prunes off neural connections that aren't being use, therefore have become a waste, and get sloughed off to make other connections already established stronger). What they myelenate depends on what their needs and experiences are.

The experiences we give our children matter.

Our kids need us to help them keep those connections that allow them to be creative, free thinking, outside-the-box, individuals. They look to us to see what's important, and if we're always telling they need to find the right answer, or that there's only ever one answer to something, that creativity gets squashed.

You know when you're reading a book, and the images flashes across your mind like a movie as you read? That is something that doesn't just happen. That is something that is taught. Maybe you don't remember being taught because it happened at such a young age (and that's the best way for it to happen), but that movie playing in your mind doesn't just happen.

I am sure there are so many ways parents (and teachers) can harness this creativity, and my way isn't the only way. In fact, if I did a quick google search I'm sure I can find lists of "ways to harness creativity in children" I could find lists of this. But I didn't do a google search. I'm just writing what is on my heart this morning.

Here's what I do: I tell stories. All the time. But I don't just tell the stories. I ask my girls to tell stories. For instance, last night as we climbed around the creek near our house we heard the call of a peacock nearby. It startled the silence, and we all stopped to listen.

"What is that?" They asked.

"A peacock," I said. "What do you think it's saying?"

They shrugged their shoulders. But I didn't let it go.

"Let's make up a story about it!" And so I did. A silly, but also a little scary story.

Ok, maybe it was really scary. I conjured up images of a man in a cowboy hat and brown leather boots who had a sack of peacocks slung over his shoulder. He was chasing after this next peacock to put in his peacock bag, and that's when we heard the peacock cry out.

More scary than I had planned.

Annabelle cried about not wanting the scary man to come put her in the bag.

So, then I tried again. "Then tell me your story. Close your eyes and make up pictures in your mind. Tell me what you see is happening with the peacock."

And they stood there by the creek, listening for beautiful long moments as the rippling of the water played over the rocks, with their eyes scrunched up tight. Thinking.

"They're having a birthday party!" Eleanor cried at last.

"Yeah, its a really big party, too" Annabelle added excitedly. We could have stayed there by the creek adding details to the story, but the sun was sinking low, and we needing to go.

But they kept adding. One glorious detail after the next. As we walked up the hill back to our house, they told the story of the Great Peacock Birthday Bash.

"Can you write this story down on your computer, Mommy? Can you make it a book?" Eleanor asked a little breathlessly as we ran up to our house.

How can I say no to a question like that?

But it's not just making up silly stories that creates creativity in our children, is it?

It's letting them play with their toys, and showing them the many different ways they can be played with (because sometimes they do need to be shown).  Its throwing them into the backyard and saying "have fun without me." Its giving them room. Its allowing for wrong answers that can really be right answers. Its listening to their stories, admiring their art, and showing them ways to express themselves in whatever safe way they can.

Its . . .

How do you intentionally harness creativity in your children?

P.S. Eleanor told me last night, "I'm thinking when I grow up I want to be a book store owner. Or a book writer. Or a drawer -"

"You want to be an artist?"
"Is that what a drawer is?"
"Ok, and I want to be an artist, and maybe a teacher. Well, I don't know exactly what I'm going to do, but I'm going to have a good job. And I'm going to be happy. And make lots of money."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Despite Excuses Writing Retreat 2014

Last year, my awesome writing group and I took our first annual writing retreat (that you can read about that here.)  Suffice it to say, that trip was amazing. We've been planning our second retreat for the past seven months with eager anticipation, and booked our location for the retreat last December at Redwood Manor in Fort Bragg. If you are interested in ever going to this great place, check it out. It comes highly recommended.

I arrived home yesterday from our six day escape from reality revived, strengthened, and inspired.

A view from the extensive yard.
Surrounded by meadows, redwoods, and forests. 

Deer came up to graze on our last morning. 
We all connected soulfully to this beautiful black cat that befriended us. We named him "Andrew-Cat" after a writing group member who couldn't make it to the retreat this year. 

View of the outside deck. 

This great room became our hub of a writing room

Meet the retreaters: 

One of the writing group members, Jason, (an 'original' member that began our group three years ago) found out on our trip that a book he has been writing for the past year has been bought, and will be published. Our group has all been working on this book with him, myself included, and it feels almost like a personal victory to have someone in our group make that first milestone. I'd even had my students help give feedback on his book this past year, as his book was written as aYoung Adult novel (but will be marketed for Adults with a crossover to YA). I can honestly say that none of us in our group were or are jealous. Everyone has proven to be just incredibly happy for, and inspired by, his success.
Jason The Published. All hail, Jason. 
Jason, Laura, and I (and Andrew, and Ruby who did not come to our retreat this year) began this group back in 2011. 

Jason has connections, he knows the writing business. He has mad skills when it comes to knowing what we should do as writers to be successful. He is also a film maker, insanely creative and full of talent. For fun, he began the website:, a fan-based website dedicated to the Wheel of Time series many a year ago. 

Jason's announcement of his book being published spurred on, Laura to finish the complete first draft of her novel. She's been working on it for. . . well. . . years. She'd actually already begun working on this novel when we met her back in 2011, and had various versions of the book in progress for many years before that. She's anticipating the revised draft will be complete and ready for submission by our Despite Excuses 2015 retreat.  Go, Laura, go!

Laura hard at work - nearing the end of her first draft.

Laura The Talented. She pretty much single-handedly organized our retreat. Enough thanks cannot be given her for all that she has done for our group. She is also our resident editor. She is a freelance editor, and makes sure that all of our passive voice, and incorrect grammar are squashed to smithereens. To top it all off, she even handcrafted beautiful, personalized gifts for each of us. 

DJ The Singer-Songwriter. I am so excited for where DJ is headed with his music. We were able to hear a sneak preview of his album, and let me just tell you, it is gold. You will be hearing him on the radio, its that good. 
DJ performed for us his entire album that he has already written and recorded in a studio. You can check out DJ's work here so you can keep up the album he is producing.  The lyrics to each of the songs are so compelling, I couldn't even begin to pick out which one was one my favorite. Each song as powerful, and inspiring as the one before. 

Cary is our resident artist. She can be very quiet in person, but the things that go on inside her head? Incredible.  She's finished the complete first draft of her novel, and is making great progress on the second draft revisions. So much creativity in one person, I am constantly amazed and inspired by her. 
Cary pulled this dragon from the sand with astonishing speed. The ocean waves came, drug it back into the sea, and again she drew the dragon out from the sand with just a stick and her hand.
Johnna is our youngest writer, and joined our group last year. Her writing, like mine, is a work in progress. Though don't let that fool you. She has many ideas - and is working on putting it all down on pen and paper (so to speak). 

 She is such a talented writer, able to put down more words in a short time than any of us. Look out for this one, she's going places with talent like that. (Also, she is maybe one of the sweetest people I have ever met. If I could, I would keep her in my back-pocket all the time). 

(The Sweater says: "To Save Time, Just Assume I know Everything." I think its safe to say that Kathy does.)

Kathy is our newest member. We actually found her through an ad that we placed in a newspaper (and also on Craigslist) for a writer to join us on our writing retreat. She is an English professor at a Junior College, and has published a book on comma usage (which is hilarious, I've started reading it). Kathy has such an amazing voice as an author. She shared with us several poems that short stories that I instantly fell in love with and was inspired anew by each.  

Working on my YA novel
As for me, I worked on several different drafts. One young adult alternate-history-slash-modern-day- dystopia type that I'm excited about. I outlined over half of the book, researched, plotted, and wrote the first chapter. I worked on some therapy writing (which is really just the best kind of therapy there is. I begin to understand so much about myself when I allow myself to open up the floodgates of my heart to pour onto paper). I also prepared a children's book for submission to an agent, and am inspired more than ever to get my butt into gear and to write.

"Processing" (aka: napping) is also an important part of the writing process.
But beyond the magical hours of writing that happens on a writing retreat, our retreats are about so much more than just writing.

It's a time to disconnect from all the crazy, distracting noise of the world.

It's a place to connect with other like-minded creative writer types. Kindred spirits all.

It's a chance to share around a dinning room table meals cooked with love. Each of us prepares two meals (or four, like me) that come from each of our lives - some healthy, some not so healthy - but all shared with love the same.

It's an opportunity to share our hearts, grow, and gain strength from one another.

It is a place to come to feel whole again. To be seen. To be heard. To just be.

The last night of our retreat we headed to the beach to light a fire, roast some marshmallows, and share our hearts with each other. 

Photo credit: Jason Denzel

We also got to enjoy another concert by DJ. 
Photo Credit: DJ Stipe

The way a marshmallow should be roasted. 
And yes, I ate it all in one bite. Yum. 

Photo Credit: Dj Stipe

Photo Credit: Jason Denzel

Photo Credit: Jason Denzel

These amazing bunch of people are so much more than writing buddies. They more than just a group of people I spend less than a week with once a year. 

They are family. 


P.S. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if you're a writer and you're not a part of a writing group, get one.

P.S.S. How many times did I say "inspired" in this post?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Annabelle's Solutions to California's Drought

At tonight's puppet show before bed, our make-believe puppet friends asked the girls, 'So, what can we do to help with California's drought problem?'

Annabelle jumped up and down. 'I know, I know! We should go camping!! And have a fire! Then we can make s'mores with marshmallows and chocolate! Mmmm.'

Esko asks, 'but how does that help the drought problem?' 

Annabelle looked a little confused. 'Because...s'mores.' 

Esko nodded. 'Inunderstand. If only all problems could be solved with s'mores. But what else could we do?'

Annabelle jumped again with the excitement of having the right answer. 'I know! We could go to the ocean and catch octopuses. Then we could cut out their brains and drink their water.' 

Esko ( felt the need to ask for  clarity. 'Cut out their brains? And drink their water?!'

Annabelle's nodded vigorously. 'Yes! Just the octopuses. Cut out all their brains, and we'll have water.' 

And there you have it folks. The solutions we've all been looking for to California's drought. Step one: Go camping and eat s'mores. Step two: Go to the ocean, capture octopi, cut out their brains, and drink their 'water' (whatever that is). 

Don't say I never did anything for you.